Complication from preterm birth (babies born too soon) is the number one cause of death around the world for children under age five. In the United States, almost one in ten babies is born preterm–the 6th highest rate in the world. Yet, the vast majority of these babies survive while in low-income countries the majority of babies born too soon will not. The difference being that preterm babies in high-income countries receive the care they need to survive and thrive.
While we know what works to save preterm babies’ lives, applying this knowledge in low-resource settings can be challenging. Problems like unreliable electricity, shortfalls in essential health care commodities and supplies, and often difficult access to life-saving care can mean the difference between life and death for these vulnerable newborns. Fortunately, many governments the world over are considering these challenges within the broader context of quality maternal and newborn health care and are working with the global community to make a difference in their countries.
A key feature in the global and national dialogue for action around preterm birth are the World Health Organization (WHO) Recommendations on interventions to improve preterm birth outcomes released in 2015. The recommendations outline proven practices that can be used when a woman is in early labor, just before the birth of her preterm newborn and immediately after the baby is born. Applying these interventions in low resource settings can be complex. Some interventions can even cause harm if used at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Because of this, more work is needed to ensure the safe and effective use of these interventions in low-resource settings.
In recognition of World Prematurity Day (November 17), Every Preemie—SCALE convened a group of technical experts to explore the issues of safe and effective use in three main areas of preterm newborn care: oxygen use, thermal stability, and lactation support. This technical working group meets twice a year to explore implementation challenges and solutions around preterm birth and low birth weight and used yesterday’s meeting to begin work on technical briefs highlighting the safe and effective use of each of these three interventions in low-resource settings. Presentations, materials, and more information on the technical working group and outcomes of this meeting are available on the Every Preemie website.
Providing appropriate care for preterm babies around the world is complex but achievable. The WHO Recommendations provide an excellent starting point for health care workers to prioritize interventions and make decisions on the best path forward, but more guidance is needed to ensure that care is provided in a safe and effective way. Every Preemie’s technical working group aims to provide that guidance to ensure that preterm babies are getting the right care, in the right way, at the right time to help them not only survive, but thrive for years to come.
Every Preemie—SCALE is a 5-year USAID-funded program designed to catalyze the global and national conversation around preterm birth and low birth weight in 25 priority maternal and child health countries, primarily in Africa and South Asia. The program is implemented by PCI, the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).